22 SES 07 B, International Perspectives on Professional Development
Denmark has witnessed an unprecedented growth in the number of university programs (Rasmussen 2014). Most of these programs have an interdisciplinary orientation and profile. Among the factors propelling a growth in interdisciplinary university programs are specific Danish higher education policies encouraging universities to develop programs not overlapping existing programs. This has prevented universities from offering programs within the traditional disciplines if such programs weren’t already a part of the university’s program portfolio. Furthermore, the requirement that university programs must be able to demonstrate and document their relevance to the labor market has generated an emphasis on predominant social and economic concerns. This orientation is reflected in the titles of the interdisciplinary programs referring to economic opportunities (‘experience design’; ‘tourism’) or societal problems and risks (‘security studies’; ‘risk management’) rather than specific disciplines. The development of higher education towards increased interdisciplinarity and social/economic relevance is not an exclusively Danish phenomenon but an international trend in higher education development (Davies and Devlin 2010; Jansen and Goedhardt 2010). Ramirez(2006), for example, describes how the so called ‘socially useful’ university has become the dominant university model. In Denmark, many of these programs are offered at MA level and accept students from a broad range of disciplinary programs. Rather than expanding, specializing, or deepening the disciplinary content of the student’s bachelor, these programs require the student to broaden their disciplinary profile by drawing on and rearranging existing knowledge in new interdisciplinary constellations.
A predominant political rationale behind the move towards higher degrees of social and economic orientation of higher education is that such an orientation will remove some of the barriers that traditionally exist between university learning and the competences obtained within university settings on the one hand and the requirements of employing organizations on the other. Changing the content and not least the discourse of university education towards more employer-friendly approaches is perceived as conducive to university candidates’ employability.
Broad entry requirements and diverse disciplinary backgrounds among students create learning environments in which students must put considerable effort into the building of consistent, relevant, and professionally meaningful profiles. In most cases, open and student-centered learning forms encouraging independent research efforts on the part of the student promote the development of individualized competence profiles. The existence of broadly phrased international attainment criteria determining generic competence and skills levels (the Dublin criteria) ensures that graduates and master level candidates will fit into the European qualification system despite the fact that students are granted high degrees of freedom in terms of the disciplinary content of their education.
This paper combines the results from two studies investigating how the developments described above have influenced the Danish higher education landscape.
The first study examines the rationales for adopting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary elements in contemporary Danish higher education programs and the importance that these elements are seen to have in relation to the estimated employability of the candidate. How do the curricula balance disciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary concerns? How is the link between inter/transdisciplinarity and employability established? What kind of job market and job functions are implied in descriptions of competence goals?
The second study complements the first study by taking a closer look at the actual practices of establishing a relevant competence profile through what might be termed the ‘bricolage work’ of combining existing and new knowledge elements and making sense hereof in relation to future job plans. This work is studied through student-produced reflection papers that serve to document student progress within one particular interdisciplinary program. Thus, the second study forms a necessary point of departure for a discussion of the practical impact of the trends observed in the curriculum descriptions.
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